Concentration in sport or work is at its best when you go in the zone. You are completely focused on the task at hand and all distractions disappear into the distance. Many people view concentration as if it were a thing. They will say things like “It broke my concentration”, “I lost my concentration”. Concentration, though, is not a thing it is a process.
Having great concentration is all about your ability to direct your attention to relevant information for a certain amount of time. Concentration is as much about focusing your attention on important information or cues as it is about blotting out anything that is irrelevant or distracting.
One of the reasons it is difficult for us to maintain concentration is evolutionary. There was a time when we were not just the hunters but also the hunted. For this reason it was not good to focus too long on one thing. Our unconscious mind is there to protect us and is always looking for threats.
I love cycling at night and in this instance it’s a great metaphor for what concentration is. Imagine that you are riding your bike at night and you have a powerful light on your helmet. You are staying focused on the road ahead and the light is guiding your way.
Now let’s say you hear your name being called from the side of the road. You turn to see who it is. You are no longer focused on the road. Have you lost your concentration? The answer is no. What you have done is refocus it. We don’t lose concentration or have it broken. Instead we shift its attention. We focus our mental torch on different information or a cue – in this case your name.
In sport elite athletes have to contend with lots of information coming their way and some of it is really fast, including the opponent, the environment, the referee, the crowd, the coach, the score, not to mention all the internal information such as personal thoughts and thoughts of winning or losing. Knowing what to direct their attention towards and what to blot out is important for success.
In the workplace, there can be just as much information coming your way at speed. Notifications about emails, social media alerts, your colleagues working close to you and internal distractions such as concerns about finances or an upcoming report you have to deliver in a certain time frame.
Here are six suggestions I have taken from elite athletes which can help you in your business:
1. Before you start to work on something decide what it is you want to get done and within what time frame. Write the goal and time down. An example might be to write a 350 word article in one hour.
2. Understand your distractions and how you can take control of them. Make a list of those things that distract you and what actions you are going to put in place to overcome them.
3. Design a pre-focus routine. An example may be:
- Put phone on silent and face down
- Switch off all apps and Wifi
- Write out what your goal is for this focused session and how long you have to do it
- Put headphones on and play a playlist of music you enjoy (Set up the playlist in your free time so you don’t waste time trying to create something before you begin your work)
- Take a few moments to breathe and then begin
It is important that your routine is practiced before every focused session to set up habits.
4. Go with the flow on distractions. If something pops into your mind about an email that needs to be sent or a conversation you need to have with someone just write it down on a notebook beside you and keep going. You can do those things after your focused session.
5. Use keywords to refocus when you find your mind starting to wander. Example – “Get Back To It!”
6. Use physical reminders to refocus, e.g. a click of fingers or take a breath and then “Get Back To IT!”
All of the above will take some time to practice before it becomes a habit. That is no different to how it was when you learned to brush your teeth. Remember that the mind is designed shift focus but you can train your mind to refocus. Take small breaks when you need it by standing up or taking a breath and then Get Back To It!
If you have any questions or comments please feel free to share them with me.